Released earlier this month, pertorika’s You’re Not Alone EP represents many changes for the still-young band. As their first release to benefit from SPACE SHOWER MUSIC‘s distribution, their first album on indie label KOGA Records, and their first holiday-themed release, the group was entering new territory in more ways than one. As You’re Not Alone EP brought with it wider exposure than pertorika had ever seen before, how did the band fare?
If there was any nervousness as the four-piece group entered the studio to record their highest-profile album to date (and first “EP”, although the difference between an EP and their previous “mini-albums” frankly evades me), none of it translated to the final product at all. The EP is the work of a mature and confident group, its sparkling light jazz inviting favourable comparisons to possibly the most beloved Christmas album of all time. Although only “Gozen 6-ji no Merry Christmas” explicitly mentions the holiday, the Christmas feeling – the romantic ideal, not the depressing reality of hyper-commercialism – is inescapable as one listens to pertorika’s effortlessly smooth city-pop. Production is minimal, as it very much should be; a band like pertorika’s music needs no decoration to be compelling.
The four-song EP is the ideal format for what is, for all intents and purposes, a Christmas album – without the pressure to fill an entire album, the band can remain focused and free from the need to do something inadvisable like, say, become the umpteenth band to provide the world with yet another inessential cover of “Jingle Bell Rock”. That I found the song with “Merry Christmas” in its title to be the weakest of the four selections might be attributable to a distaste for the phrase, but even as the weakest piece on You’re Not Alone it still holds up quite well, musically. My personal favourite song of the four is the upbeat “Kisetsu ga Mata Owaru”, which finds the group at its most playful – I do hope the winter holiday theme doesn’t stop that one from making it into live setlists year-round, as it’s one of pertorika’s finest moments as a band. If the other songs on the album are like a holiday dinner with good friends, “Kisetsu” is like playing in the snow; to compare it to another holiday-themed Shibuya-kei release, the song sounds like the video to “Hikari no Spur” looks.
While Japanese pop music seems to grow more inorganic and alien every day, with its vocal synthesizers and harsh, electronic walls of noise, groups like pertorika remind us that there is still warmth and beautiful life left in the scene. Indeed, Shibuya-kei offers a paradox; for at the same time as the heavily referential, openly derivative nature of so much of the music seems to favour a detached reading, Shibuya-kei musicians so frequently offer listeners intimacy and sincerity that one can’t find anywhere else. In co-opting incredibly unfashionable styles, from the elevator-music jazz of Pizzicato Five and pertorika to the anorak pop that Flipper’s Guitar made their names off of, Shibuya-kei finds that there’s a lot cooler than being cool.